So Did Vogue's 'Health Initiative' Actually Change Anything? We Investigate

The new Vogue health initiative kicked into high gear this month, an excellent--albeit belated--move on the magazine's behalf. All 19 editions have
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The new Vogue health initiative kicked into high gear this month, an excellent--albeit belated--move on the magazine's behalf. All 19 editions have

Isabella Rossellini, 60, for Vogue Italia and Rosie Tapner, 16, for Vogue UK

Isabella Rossellini, 60, for Vogue Italia and Rosie Tapner, 16, for Vogue UK

The new Vogue health initiative kicked into high gear this month, an excellent--albeit belated--move on the magazine's behalf. All 19 editions have hit newsstands, so it's time to see if Vogue is practicing what they preach.

Each month we'll be following up on the initiative's most trackable and divisive tenet: age. Vogue has vowed not to "knowingly" work with models under the age of 16.

Here's the thing, a model's age can be pretty fluid. Siri Tollerød once told New York magazine that she was "18 up until she was 20 and a half." In September 2009, Aymeline Valade told FashionTV that she was 20, and less than two years later American Vogue celebrated her as a model with "life experience" at the age of 26. And earlier this year, Agyness Deyn revealed she is actually 6 years older than she claimed when she first started modeling. None of these are isolated incidents and are quite common in an industry where a 24 year-old is considered by many as "old." Knowing this, we throw ourselves on the mercy of the internet. Ages provided by agencies and other sources may not always be 100% accurate, but we'll work with what we've got.

So did Vogue pass the age requirement this month?

So did Vogue pass the age requirement this month? We'll answer that with a resounding "Yes!" and even a bigger "Duh!"

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Let's clarify: Models under the age of 16 have been used by the magazine earlier this year (a 14-year old Thairine Garcia on the cover of Vogue Italia comes to mind, a.k.a. one of the 14 year-olds Marc Jacobs flaunted in the face of the CFDA at his fall show), but considering the seriousness with which they're taking this new intiative, we imagine that they will be particularly diligent from now on. In fact, in June issues, only about 25% of the models were under the age of 20, while the average age was 24. These numbers skew a bit older than expected, don't you think? With age being such a hot topic, it makes us wonder if this month was just a fluke.

However, when we investigate further, we see that these numbers are comparable to the last two years. June 2010 and 2011 issues saw average ages of 23.2 and 23.5, showing a steady rise from one year to the next.

What's more is that last year, when we tallied the top models in Vogue, the top 20 women had an average age was 26.5 years. That's nowhere near the prepubescent model stereotype. Looking back further, we see that only 10% of the spots in the top 20 from 2009 to 2011 were occupied by teenagers, none of which were 16 or younger. That's only 6 of 60 spots. Has the lion's share of the work in Vogue really been going to women over the age of 20? The numbers seem to be pointing in that direction.

While the health initiative is a step in the right direction, the real problem--as we've seen with eye-opening documentaries like Girl Model--lies with the age of recruitment. The models in Vogue may be over the age of 16, but this doesn't preclude them from being scouted as young as 12 or 13. But Vogue is putting their foot down. Take the magazine's current darling, top model and current W cover girl Karlie Kloss' career beginnings as described by W fashion director Edward Enninful:

1st time I saw @karliekloss she was 14, I was at Vogue. I asked Anna Wintour if I could shoot her but was told not 'til she was 16 xoxo

— WMag Edward Enninful (@EdwardEnninful) June 19, 2012

That would have been back in 2007, 5 years before any sign of a health initiative. The fact of the matter is that Vogue, despite their pull, cannot change the industry all on their own. The cooperation of artistic directors, designers and casting agents is essential. But at least they're trying.